May 29 Last Full Day Shenandoah Weekend!

Today I revisited a trail I had not hiked in 20 years.  The last time I was on this climb to Hawksbill, I had baby Logan on my hip.  He was about 2 years old and walking like a fiend! So I would put him down to walk for awhile, then carry him for awhile when those little chubby legs got tired.  🙂

I started from the upper Hawksbill parking lot, then after visiting the view at the top, looped down to lower Hawksbill, around on the AT, then up again on the Salamander trail.  Nice loop!  And Sidekick Pauli made three summits this weekend!!  Mary’s Rock, Loft Mountain, and Hawksbill – good job, doggie!

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“I’m a freakin’ mountain goat.” ~Sidekick Pauli

Coming around on the AT I ran into “JustSue” setting up a table of Trail Magic for the thru-hikers at Hawksbill Gap.  Trail Magic in the form of ham sandwiches, Little Debbie’s  and other delights.  I didn’t have anywhere to be very fast, so I stopped and chatted with “JustSue”.   She had her grandson helping her but he had run off down the trail somewhere so at the moment it truly was just Sue!  Sidekick Pauli also enjoyed meeting JustSue, but was ready to move after a bit, so we said our goodbyes and sidled on down the trail.  I left her in good spirits and was able to pass the joy to thru-hikers coming down the trail.  “TRAIL MAGIC AHEAD!!!”

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“JustSue” and her Trail Magic!

I love this section of the AT.  The rocks are beautifully adorned with fern, succulents, and other wildflowers.  The talus slopes (think rock slides) made me a little nervous with Pauli along and no hiking poles.  Thought I would have trouble negotiating through, but nope! We got through like champs, we did!

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Arriving at the intersection of the Salamander trail, a great rock awaited us providing a lovely spot for lunch.  With the added benefit of being able to lighten the load in the pack before climbing up to Hawksbill again! 🙂   Ever the opportunist.

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Salamander Trail to the left, AT to the right, Lunch!

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Salamander Trail…going up!

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Holy cow!!! I found the Keebler’s Elf House! I asked for cookies, but those darn elves didn’t answer my knock on the door. 😦

 

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One more look at the summit of Hawksbill, then back to the car we go!

We timed the route around and back to the car just right. Plop…plop…plop, ping, plop, ping, plop, ppppppppplopitypingpingplopplopplop…deluge!  Sidekick Pauli is amazing at getting me back to the car before it rains! We were high and dry!  Not so for many other sorry folks I saw dragging themselves back to cars parked too far away for comfort.  I could feel their shivers as I drove back to the campsite.

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Another Momma, not the Dog Hater, but not a dog lover either.  Escorted us kindly, but firmly, out of Big Meadows that morning!

After the rain and back at the campsite, guess who comes strolling with determination towards our tent?  The dog hating Momma deer.  Great.  I took Pauli to the car and waited, but forgot my hot coffee on the picnic table.  “Don’t mess with my coffee, Miss Momma of the Year!”

No trouble here, I’m just visiting!  Hike on!

 

 

May 28 Day 3 of Shenandoah Weekend!

Shhh…I did something totally against the rules today…sorry, sorry, sorry, it was a total blunder on my part, but no one saw us and we left NO trace.

More on that later.  Let’s start at the beginning.  Sidekick Pauli not wanting to get up!

At home she has hours of down time to kick back and relax.  Here in the campground she was on constant alert.  Add that to 7 up and down miles yesterday in the heat…and well, no smiles this morning.

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Don’t worry, once the “Bully Biscuits” were out, ALL was good! 😉

I gave her some down time by heading south to Loft Mountain.  She crashed in the back of the car and came out a new dog once we reached Loft Wayside.  Even so, I figured an easier day of hiking wouldn’t be a bad thing.

It looked like a pretty nice hike could be had by taking the Frazier Discovery Trail up to the AT, then loop around Loft.  Straight uphill, so much for taking it easy! We found a spring of nice, cool water, which Pauli immediately claimed for the next few minutes lapping furiously.

The Frazier Discovery Trail has some pretty cool rocks along it, but I wondered what else I was to possibly discover.  Mostly wooded, I continued to slog uphill.  It was already hot and it was only 8:30 AM!

Reaching the AT, I found an awesome outcropping where we took a short break before continuing along the AT.  Short because I could feel myself getting skin cancer out there on the rocks.  Seriously.  It.Was.Hot. (and super sunny)

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Summit Smooches are a Sidekick Pauli specialty!

The loop around Loft Mountain on the AT ended at the Amphitheater.  At which point I met up with a woman I had previously passed on the trail.  She was camping at Loft and wanted to do the Loop, but she couldn’t take her dog on Frazier Discovery Trail since DOGS ARE NOT ALLOWED!!! “Oh crap!” I exclaimed, “I just came up that way!”  Now, for most people, maybe they wouldn’t care that they had just done something like TAKE THEIR DOG IN A PLACE SHE WASN’T ALLOWED…but I felt really, really, guilty! But there was no sign.  I looked when I went back down the hill, because, seriously, it bugged me.  There was a sign for “no bicycles” but nothing about no dogs.  I can say, though, that my dog was on leash AND I cleaned up after her…left NO trace!  But now that I know, well, I won’t do it again.

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Back at the campsite, the neighboring campers came over and warned me about a deer that is especially aggressive towards dogs.  Apparently, this is the deer who has been stashing her baby fawn in the campground area.  I happened upon this fawn yesterday over by the Big Meadow picnic grounds.  I got a picture with a zoom!

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Anyway, good for the deer! This place had become a cluster…and so many people had dogs off leash without any kind of voice control. ergh…

When I was a kid at camp, one of the activities we did was to close our eyes and just listen, making note of the sounds heard.  I closed my eyes…wind in the trees, families conversing, buzzing, birdsong, rangers beeping at people out on the main road, motorcycles, Pauli turning over in the grass, and MusicMan’s radio…Hike On!

 

May 27 Day 2 of Shenandoah Weekend!

Appalachian Trail Day: Pinnacle Picnic Grounds to Mary’s Rock

5:30 am, why is it that I cannot sleep in???

Put some water on to heat for tea with my little Esbit stove, then attended to Sidekick Pauli.  She refuses to eat plain kibble when we camp.  Don’t worry, I spiced it up with some doggie yum. 🙂

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Do you spoil your dog much? 

Headed out to Pinnacle Picnic Grounds to hike the section of the AT to Mary’s Rock (and back).  Full disclosure here…I didn’t want to run into any bears in the woods with Sidekick Pauli.  I didn’t know how she would react.  So part of my choosing this hike is because it is up on a ridge, and I figured the bears would be down low munching up all the green stuff they could find.

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Headed to Mary’s Rock (and back)

Even so, setting off down the trail at just after 7 am, I was verbally pointing out all the sights to Sidekick Pauli!  “Oh, look at that flower! Did you see the fog hanging in the top of that tree?” hahahaaaa  …and so on!

We didn’t run into any bears along the trail, thank goodness!  Although, after the hut, there was bear scat. That sent me, again, into Chatty Kathy mode for awhile.

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Looking north towards Mary’s Rock from the Pinnacle

This section of the AT has some beautiful views.  It also has some nice ups and downs! The day felt much warmer than it was as we rolled along the ridge towards Mary’s Rock.  However, I am marking this section as one to come back and do in the fall.  It would be absolutely stunning with the fall colors.

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Just so we are clear that this is the AT

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At Mary’s Rock

Sidekick Pauli had a delightful time meeting everyone on the trail EXCEPT stupid people with dogs.  There is a leash law for a reason people.  And don’t look at me like my dog is the problem!!!

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Sidekick Pauli at Mary’s Rock

 

Anyway, no reason to get too hot under the collar because we, well I, was already sweating buckets by the time we had hiked back to Pinnacle Picnic Grounds.  I was so hot, I literally soaked my head down before driving back to Big Meadows.  Ahhhhh refreshing!

So another micro-section of the AT completed! Hike on!

May 26 Day 1 of Shenandoah Weekend!

Definitely took my chances on finding a campsite in Shenandoah National Park on Memorial Day Weekend!  Hoped coming down on Thursday before the holiday weekend was early enough.  Otherwise, it was going to be a long day trip with lots of goodies in the car!

The best possible outcome would be a campsite at Lewis or Loft. Pulling through the entrance gate at Swift Run Gap, the sign stated that ALL campgrounds were open.  A sigh of relief escaped me, but I was skeptical.  The ranger at the gate assured me the campground would have radioed down if there were no more spots.   Decided to head north to Lewis first.  This was my first choice as it is a smaller, tents only, campground.  Well, after circling twice and finding nothing, confidence waned a bit.  I had a choice to make:  south to Loft (20 miles) or north to Big Meadows (5 miles)?  Yep, I went for Big Meadows figuring if there wasn’t a spot, then at least I could keep heading north … check at Matthews Arm…and if I was denied there as well, then I would just drive on out of the park and head home.

Not to worry! Big Meadows had ONE spot left!  Not a great spot, but A spot.  I’ll take it! Ummm…just a side note, not a complaint, full price should not be charged for this spot.  It was challenging finding a flat place to pitch my backpacker tent without moving the picnic table and it is just below where all the cars park…which means you get light every time someone drives by at night!

After getting the tent pitched on a relatively flat area, I headed down to an overlook to send a text to Little Caesar, letting her know where to find me should there be an emergency.  Saw my first bear at the overlook! And a cluster of stupid people…yay!

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God, I’m so hungry…*nom, nom, nom*

Back at the campground families were gathering, fires being lit, and music was playing loudly. *Sigh*  I spread out the maps and finally decided we would finish off a micro-section of the AT I needed tomorrow, Pinnacle Picnic Grounds to Mary’s Rock.  It would have to be an out and back hike.

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Sidekick Pauli takes her watchdog responsibilities very seriously!

I raised my head to look around.  Hmmm, as long I as didn’t look towards those parked cars, it was kinda nice.  Music wafted up into my campsite,

“But it was only fantasy.
The wall was too high,
As you can see.
No matter how he tried,
He could not break free.”

Hike on.

 

Shenandoah NP – Dickey Ridge Trail (10 miles)

Quick before it starts raining again, let’s go hiking!  I was all set to meet my hiking gals at the north end of the Dickey Ridge Trail (just outside of Shenandoah NP).  Arriving a bit early, I busied myself with pulling on my boots, putting stuff in my pack, then leaned back in my seat to wait. BearSpray and Lola had pulled up behind me and parked. I happened to look up and “Oh, A BEAR!!!”  I waved frantically at BearSpray hoping she see the bear too! She only caught the tail end of it as it lumbered into the woods.  😦

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Welcome to the park!

WELL, I have to tell you that got my hopes up very, very high for seeing another bear on our hike!

When the full crew had arrived we shuttled to the south end of the trail at Compton Gap.  It was colder and windier than some of us had anticipated…fur lined gloves anyone?

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The badass Fashionista! and that little crocheted knapsack…adorbs!

So off we went into the woods, following a fire road to the beginning of the Dickey Ridge Trail!

I was hoping for wildflowers…and a view or two.  Turns out the first mile was just trail and woods, a few common purple flowers, and wind.  But so beautiful! The green in the forest was so fresh, and the blue of the sky was sublime.  I kept optimistic!  Spring had come late to my neck of the woods in Maryland, so I knew there was a chance I wouldn’t see much spring in the mountains.  But still, it’s Mid May!!!

I was rewarded intermittently.  Walk for awhile, then ooooo ahhhhhh, click click with the camera phone, move on!

 

Coming down into Low Gap, another trail crossed ours.  There was no sign post, and we stopped for a minute wondering whether there might be a view if we took the trail to the left.   We opted to move forward on the Dickey Ridge crossing Skyline Drive and up the next hill.  I am still thinking about that trail to the left, though.  I feel like someone had mentioned that trail to me before…but it’s gone now.  Note to self to go back and explore later!

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S.I. Buttercup on her way down into Low Gap

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BearSpray keeps watch, while Lola checks the map 🙂

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Up the hill after Low Gap

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Smirk of Satisfaction after making to the top!

The wind blew us openings in the trees now and then allowing us to view the valley below us.  Beautiful! A winter hike would afford some amazing vistas from this trail!

After several miles, we were wondering whether we would get an open view at all.  After passing the Snead Farm Loop trail, there was a side trail that went steeply up.  It looked promising so Buttercup and I made our way up and…nothing.  Well, not nothing.  We saw this building.  Later I found out this was an FAA site (from the map).

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FAA site on Dickey Hill

Buttercup headed back down, then so did I …but then started yelling down to her “to the right, to the right!!!!!! Buttercup, to the right!” Yessssss! A payoff after walking through the enchanted green forest!

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Looking down on BearSpray from our perch above! Lunch spot!

We were enraptured.  Buttercup and I sat up on the hill, withstanding the cold wind while we ate our lunch, completely mesmerized with the view.  BearSpray eventually came up to join us from below and was equally blown away (with wind and view)!

This spot is only about a mile and a half south of the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, so very doable! One does need to climb up the hill, but seriously, worth it.

When we had gotten so cold we couldn’t stand it any longer we got back to trekking down the trail. Next stop the visitor center, then down the hill to our cars.

The last mile or so was surprisingly different and wonderful!

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The trail follows a gurgling stream (especially vocal after the rain we’ve had)…happy home for turtles.

The birds were singing, families were out exploring, and there was a feeling of absolute contentment along this stretch.  I felt I was being replenished after going up and down all those hills. 🙂

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The end of a wonderful trek in Shenandoah NP!

Sadly, no more bear sightings on today’s hike…but there is always next time! Hike on! 🙂

 

Not Quite Spring, Not Quite Winter! A Stroll in Shenandoah NP

Cruising along Skyline Drive it occurred to me that maybe this hike wasn’t going to be the hike I had conjured up in my mind yesterday.  At that time, I sat on the edge of my bed, maps spread out around me and Sidekick Pauli sprawled  beside me catching rays from the afternoon sun.

Now I found myself facing mountains that still showed vestiges of winter.  I  pulled over no less than three times along the drive just to look, gaze in wonderment, lost in the beauty of Shenandoah.  I decided we would hike where the snow still lingered.

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I want to go there! Right there, on top of that snowy mountain!

I had been headed to Elkwallow Wayside, but stopped short when I got to Overall Run Falls trail head.  Yes!  We ARE STOPPING RIGHT HERE!!!  The trees were all sporting a fresh layer of rime and the trail was perfect with about an inch and a half of dry snow.  Oh, it was gorgeous! Like *gasp* gorgeous!

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Not the best pic…but the only good pic of the rime on the trees!

I took a look at the map and started down the AT to Elkwallow, I would decide whether to backtrack or loop once I got there.  Sidekick Pauli was hiking with me today and is still sporting a pretty good scar down her neck…so it just depended on how she was doing when we got to Elkwallow.

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Oh boy! Into the woods!

The AT to Elkwallow Wayside is a fairly moderate hike with a view that was nice!  Sidekick Pauli scrambled up the rocks and stared into the distance with satisfaction.  Oh, she was definitely happy to be back on the trail! This was our only overlook, although, there were nice forest views along the way.  We passed over Skyline Drive on the AT, then headed slightly up before passing the PATC Range View cabin and descending to Elkwallow Wayside.

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At Elkwallow, we took a detour down to the picnic area…for a pit stop.  While I was, um, otherwise engaged a family had driven up to also use the bathroom. Apparently, this was the only bathroom open in the area.  When Sidekick Pauli and I exited the bathroom they just lost it.  They were gabbing away in a language not understood by me.  They were simply in fits!!  I didn’t get it, what the heck, haven’t they seen something like this before???  I heard their laughter and felt their pointing until we disappeared into the woods.  Haha! Glad I could add something to their Shenandoah memory!! 😀

Sidekick Pauli was loving it!  I decided to loop down to Matthews Arm campground, then climb back up to the AT via the Traces & Tuscarora Overall Run Trails.  The weather had warmed a bit and there was no snow on the Elkwallow Trail down to the campground.  A nice picnic on a damp log awaited us!  Sidekick Pauli gobbled down several of Queen V’s home made doggie treats!!  I made do with a PB&J.  🙂

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I didn’t make it … but I didn’t destroy it either. I enjoyed the oddity of it as I made my way down the Elkwallow Trail.

The birds were rocking out while we sat there in the middle of the otherwise quiet woods.  Lovely to listen to but my butt was getting wet…time to move!

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YAY! we don’t have to rock hop across the creek. 🙂 I think Sidekick Pauli is disappointed…

Soon after crossing the bridge we reached Matthews Arm campground.  We found the Traces Trail after crossing the parking lot.  This trail starts to climb, and the climb goes on, and on.  Maybe it was because I left this piece of trail for last…but man, oh man,  that climb!  Between 800 and 1000 feet!  To say I was happy to reach the snow line would be an understatement! Whew!!

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Ahhh, yes! Finally! Jees…why did that hill feel so long? Oh, 800 feet of slippy, slippy…got it!

I reached the car and began getting ready for the drive home.  Took off the layers, traded out the hiking boots for sandals, did a few not helpful stretches, grabbed the cheezits…

While storing my bag, boots, and clothes in the back of the car, a ranger pulled up.  “Hey, just wanted to let you know there is some weather coming in overnight so we are going to be closing Skyline Drive.”

No problem, ranger! We are ready to go!  Hike on!

Fogged in at Tentsite 43 with Sidekick Pauli (Day 1 – Friday 9/25/2015)

Tentsite 43 – Big Meadows, Shenandoah NP

I had the site reserved well in advance.  This was planned to be an outing with my nieces “No Bend Barbie” and “Jedi”, but No Bend is finishing up her Master’s in Geology and was way too deep in research to come…so we postponed until next May.

So I figured I would take Sidekick Pauli!  My first solo camping trip and a long time since Pauli has been on an overnight with me.  This would be fun!  We could chill out at the campsite, enjoying the crisp autumn air, watching the leaves fall, and take an occasional hike.  Hey, I even bought a new camp chair for the occasion at the REI sale a few weeks ago!

As our weekend approached I got nervous…too many nice weekends in a row…oh, the probability for a rainy weekend…

Right on cue, the forecast said occasional showers, then rain at 6 PM on Friday night.  Okay, okay, I will get there early and set up the tent.  We can get a hike in  before it starts raining…

Cruising up to Sperryville, Virginia, I glanced at the wall of mountains before me shrouded in white…uh oh…

Well, I will just drive on up to the park entrance and see what is happening.  As my car climbed up, the fog rolled in, and soon I was moving at about 20 mph, hands gripping the wheel, as shapes swirled in and out of the fog in front of me.  Hmmm, It’s not raining…maybe we just need to gain a little altitude, you know, to get above the fog bank.  So I flashed my pass at the gate and turned south on Skyline Drive headed for Big Meadows (still at 20 mph, but now with the addition of the hazards blinking merrily to the sorry souls who dared hug my bumper).

Turning into Big Meadows, I was mollified somewhat.  The fog had lifted a bit and my optimism for an adventure had returned!  Tentsite 43 let’s go!

Great site by the way.  Way back in the woods.  There is a picnic table, bear box and tent pad.  There were also a few little trails behind the site.  These trails made walking Sidekick Pauli late at night very easy!

After setting up the tent, We set out for Lewis Spring Falls.  This trail is a 3.3 mile loop which I was able to reach by walking from my site (a nice plus!).  The fog was again falling through the trees which made my traverse along the Appalachian Trail magical.

All of my previous doubts about staying the weekend disappeared as walked along the AT.

All of my previous doubts about staying the weekend disappeared as walked along the AT.

The trail followed the AT south past the lodge, then a right turn on the fire road, passing an exhausted looking family unit. “Hey, how are you guys?” I cheerfully greeted them…Dad says, “We’re great!”…Mom says, “Kill me now…”  The teenagers were happy though!  I left them to their resting spot and headed on to the falls.

This was going to make that Mom like her hike again! Did I just walk into a fairytale?

This was going to make that Mom like her hike again! Did I just walk into a fairytale?

Whoa…lots of switchbacks!!! It sprinkled a bit, but I had dropped below the fog and could now see distant peaks.  Reaching the top of the falls, everything was wet and the rocks were slippery.  I guess to actually see the falls I would need to descend a little more…but knowing my propensity for taking a tumble and that at the moment I was hiking sans hiking poles (and with a dog)…I decided not to go any further!  I didn’t feel even the least bit sad about that decision either.  Some people just love waterfalls, I am not one of those people.  I like them, they are pretty, but I don’t have to see them in person…unless of course we are talking about Niagra…

An unexpected view on this foggy day!

An unexpected view on this foggy day!

I wondered why everyone was going back up the same switchbacks they came down…then I figured it out.  When you loop, the trail gets pretty rocky.  Holy crap! I hadn’t bargained on this for my easy, afternoon, 3.3 mile hike!! Careful, whew! I didn’t slide and I didn’t fall!!

Back at the site, I proceeded to make dinner.  As soon as I had finished cleaning up and putting things away, then rain started in earnest.  It was 6 pm.

Happiness is a warm puppy!

Happiness is a warm puppy!

We didn’t come out of the tent until after dark so Sidekick Pauli could have a little walk into the woods, so to speak.  Then we were in for good! Into the fog…hike on!